Homework in Horsemanship – it takes time, it takes planning, it takes a passion to improve.

Homework in Horsemanship – it takes time, it takes planning, it takes a passion to improve.

By: Michael Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Doing homework is critical for the safety and welfare of both horse and rider.

When we think of homework, many adults cringe and recall the days of elementary school, high school, and college when they had homework. For our Youth…when they hear the word homework, they often share how much other “real school” homework they have to complete and that they do not have time for the “horse homework.”

Why does such a simple word cause such a negative reaction for many folks … because homework is work and rarely do people consider it fun (but they should if it is done correctly and with a purpose that helps us with our passion).

Now if we have a favorite subject – let us say trail riding, obstacle work, working cattle, or jumping — just like a favorite subject in school…the homework associated with those activities gets done. For many people – homework is only focused on the “fun” part of the riding experience. These folks will work on specific activities that they see as fun…or as a means to their end goal of getting a win or an award.

Homework for People.

Homework is working on obstacles.

Homework is jumping.

Homework is working cattle.

Homework is riding that dressage test to help the rider memorize the “pattern.”

Homework is purchasing the new blinged bridle or pad or clothing so you look good.

For good horsewomen and good horsemen — there is so much more to homework. Homework is about gymnastic work for the mind and body of the horse and rider. This list below is the homework done by good horsewomen and horsemen – this is the list that true riders focus on.

Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be straight.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be obedient.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be fit.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse know where his/her feet are at all times.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be supple.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be responsive.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be balanced.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse bend correctly.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider balance.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider feel of the horse’s feet.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider refinement of aids.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider breathing.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider planning ahead while riding.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider connection.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider stamina.

Homework is working on transitions.

Homework is working on the Walk.

Homework is working on patience.

Now in case you missed it – I separated homework into two categories —

Homework for People & Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.

Of course I made this separation intentionally – because the next section is for the riders who want to do homework to develop both the horse and rider.  Here is a list of exercises that will help good riders (and their horses) continue to improve and be ready to take on anything and succeed and focus on the well-being of the horse.

  • Shallow Loop serpentines at the walk and trot
  • Walk and trot your horse from the ground. Do this from both sides … plan to work ¼ mile or more on each side of the horse and at each gait. If you cannot trot – then work the walk at multiple tempos. (This is much to do about harmony of horse and handler and rider fitness).
  • Set up one of those amazing ground pole patterns we see all over the internet … work those patterns at walk and trot while riding your horse.
  • Walk and trot transitions in the saddle – make transitions between the gaits every 13 strides.
  • Walk and trot work over ground poles with and without 4 1/2 to 5 feet spacing between the 3 ground poles.
  • Walk work without stirrups while riding and focus on Turn on Forehand, Turn on Haunches, backing, side passing, and balanced halts – all without stirrups.
  • Work on riding straight lines at walk and trot. Make sure your eyes are up and that your seat bones are even and that you are balanced. Have a spotter to make sure you are keeping your eyes up and looking ahead.
  • Ground poles work from the ground with your horse. Work at walk and trot and do this on a cavesson or halter.  With and without saddle is a great way to work the horse.  Make certain you are working to achieve straightness of your horse with the proper bend.
  • Ride staircase leg yields at the walk with your horse. Notice if your horse has the ability to move the same in each direction.
  • Count footfalls on a straight line and on circles at the walk and trot. Mark out your straight line and circles with cones (or other marker) and work on consistency of the number of footfalls from cone to cone (marker to marker) at both walk and trot.  You can do this from the saddle on this day.
  • Ride squares and practice TOH (Turn on the Haunches) at each corner going in both directions then work on TOF (Turn on Forehand) at each corner going in both directions.
  • Walk and trot in the Snowman pattern (from Jane Weatherwax – 20 m circle, then 15 m circle then 10 m circle). If your horse is not at the developmental stage to properly execute a 15 m or 10 m circle – then consider making each a 20 m circle).  For the proper snowman…if you start left, then middle circle is right, then last circle is left — switch it up and start both directions.
  • Ride S turns through a circle at walk and trot
  • Ride at walk and trot around 7 cones (use buckets or rocks if you do not have cones). Keep focused on bend and tempo
  • At the trot, practice three seat positions of rising/posting, sitting and two point….and keep tempo the same
  • Ride a 20 meter circle at walk and trot at three different tempos in both directions
  • Core day! Work on core exercises for you and for your horse.  Hillary Clayton has a great book on core exercises for your horse.  For the rider – leg lifts or sit ups might work nicely – you decide.  Once you get your plan set for this day – consider doing this 3 times a week for you and your horse.
  • Trot to halt to back for two steps and then ride forward once again at the trot. Repeat this up to 10 times.
  • Work on moving shoulders of the horse to the left and right at the walk and trot
  • Work on improving the finesse of your rider aids by tossing a ball or kicking a ball (with both hands and legs).
  • Ride the Spiraling Circle at the walk (and if you feel it is good – then also complete at the trot). For sure go both clockwise and counterclockwise. Do a 20m, then 18m, then 16m, then 14m and finally a 12m circle and then go back up at the same size change.  Really focus on stabilizing the circle and bend before you worry about going to the next size smaller or larger circle.

Be more for your horse and be more for yourself — ride with a focus on mental and physical gymnastics so that you live your passion of riding.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and you are most welcome to share this blog if you wish.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.


Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

By: Mike Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

When we set off to learn to ride a horse…there is so much to learn many people are often overwhelmed. Enthusiastic beginners and those returning to riding after many years out of the saddle want to get to the riding part as quickly as possible. Instructors teach basic grooming, saddling, how to mount, how to go forward and how to stop a horse — often in just one or a few lessons. These are all critical items to learn for sure. Once in the saddle we hear about different speeds (and how to get them and control them) and we also hear a great deal about equitation (heel hip shoulder alignment).

Quite often when I meet riders on their journey I note four major deficiencies in what I call basic understanding and needs before riding. While those of us who instruct and love horses want to see people in the saddle and enjoying our sport — it is important that these four basics are learned or understood before any rider ever legs up onto the back of the horse.

#1 — Balance — this is critical for success in the saddle. Riders need to understand that balance is tied to the rider seat and that the rider must have balanced seat bones in order to ride successfully. Along with balance…riders need to know how breathing helps their balance. Riders should be able to sit and practice changing their balance through their seat and to learn how their position related to shoulders and hips and legs all contribute to balance.  So before we ever get on a horse — we need to focus on balance and this will truly make the equitation part easier.  Suggestions — work on balance on a trampoline or shifting weight from foot to foot, jumping rope, Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi….any number of exercises focused on balance are critical for your success as a rider.

#2 — Independent Use of Aids (legs and hands and seat) — The welfare of the horse is protected when riders learn to use their legs and seat and hands independently (and this should be learned before we ever leg up on a horse).  New and returning riders often pull and kick at the same time…this is confusing for the horse and depending on the level of simultaneous pull and kick — it may be downright abusive. Suggestions — work on ball toss and ball kicks or swimming with an independent scissors kick …. work on exercises that have you use a hand and leg independently for two tasks.  Successful riders work on these exercises before and after rides and new learners should have a degree of mastery of the use of independent aids before getting on the horse.

#3 — Understanding Rhythm — We need to know that the horse walk has a 4 beat rhythm, trot is a two beat rhythm, canter/lope is a 3 beat rhythm and gallop is once again a 4 beat rhythm.  We can discuss this  — but we also need to diagram what happens in each of these rhythms.  We need to take lunge lessons (rider on horse being lunged) to help develop an understanding of rhythm.  We need to watch the horses in pasture/pen/paddock and see how they move and think about how that feels for your body. …there are also some great videos out there on the dynamics of movement.   Suggestions — Take time for lunge lessons and observation of your horse in movement without a rider. Watch a video on the dynamics of movement.

#4 — Ground Work — All riders need to spend time working with a horse from the ground up.  Learn how the horse body bends, moves, how the feet move and what type of reach the horse has in leg extension.  Understand how we can influence movement through our aids, through pressure and release….and understand this movement so that you know when you execute a Turn on the Forehand (for example) — you know that the hind end will travel in a larger circle around the front end that is traveling in a small circle (and let me remind you there is a great deal more detail to the Turn on the Forehand beyond what I have shared here). Suggestions — watch videos, take lessons focused only on ground work, draw out how a horse moves in each of the movements from the ground that you will want to do in a saddle.

We most likely can identify other areas of deficiency in riding … but these are most often overlooked by the enthusiastic new rider.  Do your horse a favor .. for the welfare of the horse make certain that you take time to include these four items in your learning and ride preparation.

Thank you for reading this blog and please feel free to share.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.

AWARE — Important for Trail Riding with your Horse

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Be AWARE on the trail

Acquaint yourself with the trail and the area where you are riding
Watch the trail/weather for unsafe and changing conditions
Actively ride your horse, do not just be a passenger
Respect other riders/bikers/hikers on the trail
Enjoy the ride

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Riding and Training success with Ground Poles.

Riding and Training success with Ground Poles.

A few months ago I posted one of my ground pole pattern configurations on the North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) Facebook page soliciting comments and thoughts.  Here is the resulting article and information we put together and I wrote up for sharing. 

Recently, this diagram of ground poles (shown below) was posted for discussion on the NAWD open group and NAWD Professional group.  The question asked “How many different exercises, movements, or patterns can you think of with this configuration of ground poles.  Looking forward to hearing from TD, WD, WP, HUS and everyone else here.  Look forward to hearing your ideas.

In both the open and Professional groups, great ideas where shared among the horsemen/women.  Jen Collman, Cynthia Stotler Koscinch, Patrick King, Bethe Mounce, and Michael Guerini took part in this discussion.  These Professionals come from a variety of backgrounds with experience in Traditional Dressage, Vaquero horsemanship, young horse starting, Dressage/Hunter Jumper, Western Horsemanship, Western Pleasure, cowhorse/cutting/reining, and Natural Horsemanship Together we covered four important discussion points including: 1) how many ways we can work the horse with these ground poles, 2) the importance of pre-planning the ride, 3) the importance of walk work, and 4) footfalls. 

How many exercises can you do with these ground poles?


This list includes the following: Walk through it, Sidepass to turn on forehand, Sidepass to turn on haunches, Walk through and sidepass out, Sidepass in and back out, Trot over the poles, Back through it, Get your horse to roll one of the poles with his nose, Use outside of the L for pirouettes, inside of the L for turn on the forehand, come at them from a 45 degree angle (like this — >>) to help the young horse go over without feeling overwhelmed.

Some list we developed, and rather quickly.  We are certain there are even more things that people can do with these ground poles in this configuration.  The key point we would all like to share is that the rider is only limited by his/her imagination.  Work with your horse and turn this into a learning opportunity and a way to make sure your backing, walking, turn on forehand, turn on haunches and side passing works everywhere and at any time.

The Importance of Pre-Planning the Ride.

One of the things we all discussed was that something like this can help the rider start thinking and pre-planning the ride.  Many times people “warm-up” their horses with walk, trot, canter (until the horse is sweating) and then figure the warm up is complete.

By going beyond the traditional walk, trot and canter warm-ups, you begin to ride your horse and engage his/her mind.  You also begin to pre-plan what you are doing, how you are giving your aides, when to give your aides and how to help your horse.  As the rider — you are active and guiding and this leads to success.

Take for example a drive on the highway.  If you’re driving on the highway, you do not wait until the last min to whip over four lanes of traffic to take the right exit because if you do so you are setting yourself up for a possible accident.  Same thing with a horse…think ahead, be pro-active instead of reactive.  😉

The Importance of Walk Work.

Simply walking your horse through the different exercises we just mentioned above can help you in getting your horse to use the correct muscles.  We all agreed that 30 to 45 minutes of walk work and using as many of the horse’s muscles as possible can lead to a rather warmed up (even sweaty) horse because we are achieving suppleness.  Walk work reveals so much about riders’ knowledge and the preparation of the horse.  😉 When youngsters are struggling, a “session” of walk work brings success because the horse answers a simple question of whether he/she understands what you are asking at the slowest of speeds.  If you do not have success at the walk, it will not come at the trot or canter.

Once you have used the correct muscles at the walk, the horse is then warmed up and ready for trot work that helps develop the push needed for canter and the canter helps warm the back up because both sides of the back are being used at the same time.


Regulation of size and placement of the step/foot is so critical in training your horse and learning to ride and is integral to the classical methods of horsemanship.  There are three key points in the stride of a leg that we must acknowledge.  Foot in mid air, foot forward and touching the ground, and foot backward just at the point in which it lifts off the ground.  All three are important in understanding where your horse is and what aides are appropriate to use at that moment in time.

It has been said by many that the moment in time where the horse is just starting to lift the foot to bring it forward is when the aide must be applied, any later or any earlier and the response is not clean.

So just as a reminder — think of your horse at the walk, then at the trot and the canter.  How fast are the feet rotating through the footfalls?  Each progressive speed increase makes your timing even more critical — hence why we had a good discussion on walk work.  Get your aides and footfalls together at the walk and you will be doing a favor for your horse.  You need to develop your feel of the horse’s hooves WITHOUT looking down.  With lateral work (sidepass, turn on haunches etc) and the poles, horses tend to move more slowly and rider can almost count the footfalls at the walk. 

On the horse training aspect, a young horse who is finding his balance with rider on board during those first few rides can help both rider and horse know where the feet are by using these poles.  This is a simplest of exercise but needs the rider to be active and it keeps the horse from rubbernecking because the horse begins to look to the rider for guidance to navigate these poles.

All agrees that is you have control of the feet, you have control of the horse…not his mind necessarily, but placement of those feet are crucial to rider being an effective rider and not a passenger.  This can become as detailed as the rider chooses or as detailed as the rider knowledge.

This exercise and Training Scale

So let us take a few moments and see how what we have discussed so far fits within the Training Scale. 

In a layout such as this one proposed, the horse and rider need to develop a Rhythm that comes with energy and tempo resulting from an active rider pre-planning and guiding the horse.  As the rider guides the horse and uses many muscle groups to work over these ground poles, Relaxation with elasticity and suppleness can be achieved.  It is often said that the hands connect to the bit with the weight of a fly and the bit in turn connects to the spine which in turn connects to the feet and this Connection results in accepting the guidance through the bit and guidance of the aides — all of which rely on controlling the footfalls.  As you advance the horse and rider skill and continue these maneuvers at the walk and trot, Impulsion is essential to get that increased energy and trust of the horse to the rider because the rider has established the placement and proper timing of aides through feel of the footfalls.  Straightness is on demand and display with the simple walk through or haunch turn or side pass because without straightness there is a lack of balance of horse and rider.  To work over ground poles and not stumble or fall over them requires a lightness of the front end that comes from engagement of the rear as presented in Collection.  Although we just went through the Training Scale list one at a time, the use of ground poles for exercises, with focus on walk work, pre-planning and footfalls can better help you as the team of horse and rider work within the principles of the Training Scale.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).